The 2013 NBA Draft: evaluating potential backup centers for the Bulls

USA TODAY Sports

I Can Be Talked Into Anyone

[It's a pleasure to welcome back TheMoon with another year of draft coverage. Expect a lot more next week. -yfbb]

Drafting a good backup center is a perfectly reasonable goal. We should feel happy if the Bulls manage it. But I don't think it is a need. The Bulls best lineup next year will be Rose/Jimmy/Deng/Taj/Noah. I like that lineup a lot and I would like that to be the "closer" unit. It has two potential leaks: Taj and Jimmy, very good players who tend to go through long periods where they utterly disappear offensively.

When I think of Bulls' needs I am thinking of players who can fill in for either Taj or Jimmy in the Bulls' crunch time lineups (Please don't say Boozer can step in. He is an incorrigible liability on defense. I know there is a bizarre notion floating around these parts that he's improved defensively but he is just as awful as he ever was. Thibs' dust, on the individual player level, is a fiction). This also means that the Bulls' need is to find a player roughly as good as Taj or Jimmy.

Stat guys tend to de-emphasize the importance of crunch time performance, for good reason. The Bulls' case is an exception though. If they are going to win a title they need to beat the Heat. And if they want to beat the Heat, they need to do better in the final 6-8 minutes of the game. I'm not sure a backup center helps that too much. But again, replacing Nazr with the 20th pick is a decent and attainable goal to have, so let's preview the Centers.

1. JEFF WITHEY (Kansas)

What I appreciate about Withey is his ability to record blocks without fouling. This says good things about his defensive potential, his coordination, athleticism and intelligence. This table compares his blocks per foul committed with other center prospects from the last three years (I included Davis, a power forward, purely to show how awesome he was):

NAME

BLKS/PF

Andre Drummond

1.23

Kyle O'Quinn

0.82

Anthony Davis

2.35

Tyler Zeller

0.56

Meyers Leonard

0.66

Nikola Vucevic

0.50

Steven Adams

1.25

Zeke Marshall

1.33

Gorgui Dieng

0.96

Jeff Withey

1.89

Mike Muscala

1.05

Cody Zeller

0.59

Mason Plumlee

0.54

Alex Len

0.78

Kelly Olynyk

0.48

Nerlens Noel

1.69

John Henson

1.81

Festus Ezeli

0.63

Fab Melo

1.04

Miles Plumlee

0.39

Bernard James

1.21

Robert Sacre

0.64

AVERAGE

1.02


The rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, Withey is the worst offensive rebounding center draft prospect of the last three years. I see this as a pretty strong condemnation of his assertiveness, physical toughness and the way he uses his size and athleticism.

Withey is also a very uncreative player. He needs his hand held getting buckets, and is below average at setting up others to score. No center prospect in the last three years needed more help getting jump shot opportunities (73% assisted on 2-pointers), and only two guys needed more help getting buckets at the rim (70% assisted at rim). His assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio are both below average for a center prospect. This suggests Withey has a poor skill level.

It is not at all clear Withey is an above average athlete for an NBA center. I think he would have to be for me to be really comfortable with him as a prospect. Considering this, his age, his skill level and lack of strength, I would probably regard Withey as at best a boring selection.

2. GORGUI DIENG (Louisville)

Dieng is at least okay at pretty much everything. Most people are familiar with his strong reputation as a passer, but he is also surprisingly good at creating shots for himself at the rim, albeit at low volume. In this draft only Mike Muscala needed less help getting to the rim (51% of Dieng's points at the rim were assisted-- average for a center is 59%).

It is a point which has already been made by many others, but Dieng's age and well rounded statistical profile remind me of Ekpe Udoh.

Name

2pt%

Per40reb

Per40pts

Per40blk

Per40ast

AST/TOV

PER

Dieng

53.4

11.8

12.3

3.2

2.5

1.12

24.2

Udoh

50.5

11.0

15.7

4.2

3.1

1.11

25.1

Some will regard this comparison as a criticism since Udoh's conventional numbers as a pro have not been impressive. But he is a solid bench big and has been something of a plus-minus All-Star. There is some evidence that Dieng too brought more to the table in college than his boxscore numbers would suggest: while Dieng was only 135th in the NCAA in PER in 2013, he was 9th in statistical plus-minus.

3. MIKE MUSCALA (Bucknell)

Mike Muscala is an imbalanced prospect. He has below average athleticism and physical attributes, but his intelligence, shooting ability and skill level are all really good.

His assist-to-turnover ratio and his assist rate are the highest of any center prospect of the last three years. Only 41% of his baskets at the rim were assisted, and this is the second lowest number for a center prospect over the last three years. He has also been consistently excellent from the foul line for a center (82% for his college career), which speaks to his potential as a shooter.

As I said though, Muscala underwhelms physically. There is nothing disastrous in the numbers I look at (no step vert, wingspan, weight, orebs, stls, blks), but everything other than no step vert is below average for a center prospect.

What I would want to know if I were a GM is what kind of strength he could add as a pro, and if I think that would be significant enough not to get pushed around so easily. Because what encourages me about Muscala is how as his strength increased over his college career he evolved from a poor rebounder to an outstanding rebounder. His DRB% this season was the 13th best of any collegiate player over the last four seasons who played at least 450 minutes, and his per40 rebounding was 36th all time in the DX database. This tells me that his brain knows what he needs to do, it's just a matter of him having the strength to pull it off.

4. STEVEN ADAMS (Pittsburgh)

Sometimes life is really easy.

NAME

Per40 ORB+STL+BLK

Nerlens Noel

11.30

Anthony Davis

11.20

Steven Adams

10.10

Andre Drummond

9.90

AVERAGE CENTER

8.14


These are the top four centers at physically impacting the game over the last three years. Adams is obviously in elite company. He is also huge, strong, young and athletic. It's pretty simple: he should be a lottery pick. He is currently slated to go 16th according to DX.com. I doubt he makes it to 16 much less 20, but if he does it's a no-brainer.

He was also 26th in the NCAA in statistical plus-minus, which drills a little deeper into the impact he was able to make defensively. He was 3rd among freshman behind Smart and Noel.

All stats are courtesy of draftexpress.com, sports-reference.com or hoops-math.com. All per40 stats are pace adjusted unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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